One store closes, another opens

February 27, 2009: 9:32 AM ET

brooksEverywhere you look: gloom. But maybe not.

Gloom, of course, isn't hard to spot. The other day I looked outside my office window, which fortunately, the way things are going some days, is hermetically sealed and made out of extremely strong plate glass. Outside on the sidewalk, on the other side of the avenue, was a long, long line of people that grew as the morning progressed. By 10 AM, it was tripled - three parallel lines - which of course meant that the line had gone around the block three times. It was, in short, a swarm.

A small group of people had formed at one of our windows and was watching the throng. "What is that?" I asked. "Job fair at the Hilton," said Jeremy, who makes it his business to know everything.  "They're taking resumes." I looked back at the triple line that snaked around and around and around a whole city block in this big, busy city. Just about everybody on the line was dressed for business. Ties. Suits. Serious black skirts. It was very, very cold out that day, but they waited. The line did not move. In fact, it didn't thin out until dusk, as the street lights began to come on.

Several weeks ago, I popped up to Fifth Avenue to get a shirt at Brooks Brothers. At certain times of the year they're quite reasonable, if you think a $60 business shirt is reasonable. I sort of do. There was only one problem. Brooks Brothers, at the corner of 53rd and Fifth, was gone. I stood there on the street like a dog who was absolutely sure he was in the correct spot at which he had buried a juicy bone, except it wasn't there.

A rent-a-cop was standing right by the place where Brooks Brothers, the spine upon which many a serious (if slightly lumpy) business career has been built, had once stood. Paper covered the windows. The logo that had once stood over the revolving doors had been torn away, leaving an ugly stub. "It's gone?" I asked the guard. "Gone," he said. "Last week." 

"As in... gone?" I said. "Like... not refurbishing? Not opening again later?"

"That is right," said the guard, and we exchanged one of those looks that say, "Buckle up, pal, it's going to be a bumpy ride."

Flip now to yesterday. I'm walking down Sixth Avenue and at the corner of 49th, or maybe it was 50th, what do you think I see? A store that has been empty for a while with a big new window that says, in big, bold, classy letters, "Brooks Brothers. Coming soon. Opening Summer 2009."

They say that the closing of one door often signifies the opening of another. A lot of doors are closing these days. But if you look long and hard enough, maybe, just maybe, there's a crack of light here and there beginning to shine through?

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